About tealmhawareness

A girl with mental illness who wants to end the stigma.

Comparison Central

Brené Brown might be my hero. I am currently reading through her book called Daring Greatly. I’m only through the preface, introduction, and first chapter, but I already feel the tug of reflection and transformation. In the first chapter, she discusses feelings of not being enough, as well as the dangers of comparing ourselves to others. Holy cow. If you see yourself in that sentence, raise your hand. I just raised both of mine.

“What makes this constant assessing and comparing so self-defeating is that we are often comparing our lives, our marriages, our families, and our communities to unattainable, media-driven visions of perfection, or we’re holding up our reality against our own fictional account of how great someone else has it. Nostalgia is also a dangerous form of comparison. Think about how often we compare ourselves and our lives to a memory that nostalgia has so completely edits that it never really existed: ‘Remember when…? Those were the days…’” (Brown, 2012, p. 26).

This whole idea of comparison has been continuously brought to my attention over the last few months. A guest speaker at a work function discussed it a few weeks ago. Discussions with friends and family. Now this book. Clearly God is trying to get my attention and shine a little light on something I struggle with on a daily basis.

To compare is “to judge, suggest, or consider that something is similar or of equal quality to something else” (Compare, 2019). I imagine someone putting me on a scale with someone else to determine who is the better, more qualified individual. I do this constantly. Is someone better than me at work? Is someone able to manage their finances in a more sustainable way? Does someone else have a better history with relationships? Is someone else better at coping with life stressors? Is someone else achieving better grades in school? Is someone else exercising more than me? Yes, yes, yes…all the way down the line. I come up wanting every single time. There will always be someone “better.”

An article by Dr. Deborah Carr (2015) says, “Some psychologists…believe that our desire to compare ourselves to others is a drive – one almost as powerful as thirst or hunger. While comparisons can be informative, they’re almost always discouraging, because someone’s always going to end up on the bottom.” For me, comparison really is a drive. I do it as easily and almost as frequently as I breathe. The question is, why do I continuously do something that only leads to low self-worth and hard hits to my already low self-confidence? I do it because I have conditioned myself to believe I am not good enough. I have allowed circumstances and events in my life to mold and shape my perspective of myself – and let me tell you…it’s not a great perspective.

But let me tell you something else…my perspective of myself is changing.

I have been through a lot. I have both experienced and caused a lot of pain. I have a lot of failures on my record. What I’m learning is this: that doesn’t make me a bad person, or one who is unworthy of respect from both myself and others. I can’t compare myself to someone else who appears to “have it all together” because their story is completely different than mine. They have their own struggles and battles that I don’t know about. The way in which nature creates a pearl is vastly different from the way in which it creates a diamond. However, pearls and diamonds are both beautiful in their own right.

When it comes down to it, I am trying to bestow on myself the same grace and kindness I so willingly heap onto others. Instead of getting down on myself because my life doesn’t seem to measure up to this other person’s life, I am trying to focus on building on my own strengths and allowing myself to like who I am. I am me. And that is good enough.

“If you commit yourself to being deeply grateful for what’s good in your life, and remind yourself of it daily, you’ll be far less vulnerable to comparison and envy” (Biali Haas, 2018).

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop comparing myself to others. It’s a natural part of human thoughts and emotions. What’s different now is that I recognize when I’m in the process of comparing myself to others, which means I can nip it in the bud and remind myself that I am my own uniquely valuable individual. I’m sure there are countless other people out there who struggle with this same thing. I see you. Remember that you aren’t alone. Maybe if you too start catching yourself in the act of comparison, you can begin the process of reconditioning your mind. We each have a lot to be grateful for. We each have amazing gifts and talents. We each deserve to be loved and appreciated for who we are, not who we are compared to anyone else.

 

References

Biali Haas, S. (2018). How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/prescriptions-life/201803/how-stop-comparing-yourself-others

Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, NY: Avery.

Carr, D. (2015). 3 Reasons to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/bouncing-back/201508/3-reasons-stop-comparing-yourself-others

Compare. (2019). Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/compare

Grief, Depression, and Love

Grief has been on my mind lately. Specifically, I have been thinking about how grief plays a part in mental health. I had an appointment with my psychiatrist this last week and she mentioned something interesting during our discussion about my ongoing struggle with depression. She said, “This is all part of your grieving process.” Up until that point, I hadn’t really considered myself as still grieving the loss of my marriage. I felt the depression was due mainly to the loneliness that plagues me day and night. However, upon further self-examination, I believe she is correct. I am not just grieving my broken marriage – I am grieving for the life I had envisioned for us, as well as for the person I thought I was.

While these thoughts were swirling around in my head this morning, I came across this quote:

“Grief is love’s souvenir. It’s our proof that we once loved. Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world: Look! Love was once mine. I love well. Here is my proof that I paid the price.” – Glennon Doyle Melton

This reminded me of the saying that “it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” I have questioned the truth of this thought many times over the last few years. In my experience, the love I have given so fully in my relationships has always led me to a place of grief. I have certainly not been convinced it is worth it. Finding that quote this morning put a different spin on things for me. I would not go so far as to say that grief should be worn as a badge of honor. However, grieving for a lost relationship shows how much I cared…how much I loved…how much I gave.

That is no small realization.

Grief is a part of life. Bad things happen to everyone: a relationship breaks, a loved one dies, or the rug gets pulled out from under us in some other monumental way. These experiences affect us on so many different levels – emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically. For me, my grief over a deep love lost spiraled me into depression. My depression is centered around 1) not having someone to love and 2) not knowing who I am without having someone to love. That self-discovery piece, according to my psychiatrist, is part of my grief. It makes sense. I am grieving the life I expected to have as a wife and care giver. I was stripped of my identity the day I was stripped of my marriage.

This new way of looking at grief, and its subsequent manifestation in my depression, has reminded me that I did not lose myself. I did not lose my ability to love someone else. I did not lose my ability to love me. I know I have not lost that part of me because I have evidence that I have loved greatly in the past. I will only lose that and become bitter and jaded if I allow myself to do so.

I know there are so many people out there who have experienced far greater losses than my own. We all have our crosses to bear. My encouragement to myself and to anyone out there is this: Don’t give up. When you feel that your grief will swallow you whole, remind yourself that you are grieving because you loved. That loving person is still in there. I am not so foolish as to think or say that your lost loved one or relationship will be “replaced” someday. Nothing and no one can replace the loss of a dear one. However, if nothing else, allow that loving person inside you to show some grace and compassion to yourself.

My marriage failed miserably, but it was not for lack of trying. I gave everything I could. That is something no one can take away from me. I know I tried. I know I loved. Just because I wasn’t enough in the eyes of someone else, does not mean I don’t have worth. The other piece of my depression that I mentioned is not knowing who I am without having someone to love. I found a piece to that puzzle this morning. I am someone with a great amount of love to give. That is who I am. I have to give myself permission to accept that.

Grief does not mean the end. Depression does not mean the end. Keep going. Keep loving. Keep fighting.

I see you.

Brain Fog: When words are on the tip of my tongue

brain fog

I haven’t written much lately because I’ve been struggling a bit with brain fog, which is exactly as unpleasant as it sounds. According to WebMD, “‘Brain Fog’ isn’t a medical condition. It’s a term used for certain symptoms that can affect your ability to think. You may feel confused or disorganized or find it hard to focus or put your thoughts into words” (2018). I found another description that perfectly captures my recent thoughts, or lack thereof: “It seems as if your thoughts are illusive, and things that you once knew seem hard to comprehend or recall” (Folk & Folk, 2019).

It’s not as if my mind has been erased or I have dementia. I believe it’s a combination of constant anxiety, stress, depression, and recent frequent mediation and/or dosage changes. I have struggled to put my thoughts into words – at least into words that seem half-way intelligent. I notice it at work when something that should make sense just doesn’t. I notice it at home when I want to write, but can’t. I even notice it when I try to do things I typically enjoy and lose motivation or interest almost at once.

In an effort to combat this without making it worse, I’ve gotten into Zentangle and ink sketching, which requires little rational thought. I like Zentangle because there is an element of chaos to it, and the whole point is that no mistakes exist and judgment should be suspended. I know I’m not the only one who experiences this. I would highly recommend this type of art therapy/mindfulness to anyone struggling with a foggy brain. It has helped me immensely.

This is about all my mind can handle today, but I thought I would share some of my tangles with you. All of the sketches in this post (including the cover photo) are by me.

References

Folk, J., & Folk, M. (2019). Brain Fog, Foggy Head Anxiety Symptoms. Anxietycentre.com. Retrieved from https://www.anxietycentre.com/anxiety-symptoms/brain-fog.shtml

WebMD.com. (2018). Reasons You May Have Brain Fog. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/brain/ss/slideshow-brain-fog

“Hand”

I’m taking a class that focuses on the idea of using art as a form of meditation and mindfulness. (side note: if you just enjoy doodling or are an accomplished artist and you ever get the chance to take this sort of class, I highly recommend it) It’s amazing how drawing scribbles can reveal personality or mental illness traits. For example, the instructor had us make a bunch of scribbles with a handful of colored pencils, then switch to one colored pencil and add what we thought was missing. I added a border around my chaotic scribbles. Only after I did that did I make the connection that I just unintentionally drew a simple picture of a complex problem – my need to try and control everything over which I have no control. That is the crux of so much of my anxiety, and ultimately depression as well.

At the end of our first class, the instructor announced that we had homework. She said, “Your homework is….Hand…” One word. Hand. At first I had no idea where to go with this assignment. As I dabbled with my paint and canvas, the picture evolved into something that represents a concept that is becoming more and more real to me every day: breaking through.

hand

(Painted and photographed by me)

A few months ago, I would have said this picture represented a cry for help – I would have said it was me reaching up through my depression and looking for someone or something to save me from myself. I have many different interpretations in this moment:

  • Breaking through my loneliness and reaching for peace in my aloneness
  • Breaking through a lack of confidence and reaching for a newer, higher level of self-respect and self-esteem
  • Breaking through my extreme lack of motivation and reaching for a renewed happiness in experiencing life
  • Breaking through crippling anxiety and reaching for rational thought

If you asked me tomorrow or next week, I may have a different interpretation of this picture. My point is this: we are always breaking through something. We are always breaking through barriers, whether they are emotional, mental, spiritual, or physical. What is so scary is this – we may break through the dark water only to find ourselves in another dark place. However, that does not mean we should give up. Rather, it means we should keep pushing through until we break through again into a lighter and more hopeful place.

Don’t give up. You aren’t alone. I see you.

Highly Sensitive People: Give yourself permission to wear your heart on your sleeve

It took me a while to understand that my anxiety, both general and social, go hand in hand with how sensitive I am. In fact, according to an article from Psychology Today, “Because highly sensitive people absorb so much stimulation from their environment, we are more susceptible to these feelings of anxiety. A recent study showed that people with a more sensitive ‘startle’ reflex, that is, highly sensitive people, are more susceptible to anxiety disorders because we have different genes than others, making it harder for us to deal with emotional arousal” (Ward, 2012). I would also argue that depressive disorders come in the wake of high sensitivity. Here’s the kicker that I am only just now coming to terms with: it’s okay to be a highly sensitive person (HSP). It’s also okay to be an anxious or depressed person, as long as that anxiety and depression does not control your life. Genetics often play a part in mental health disorders – I can no more deny my anxiety and depression than I can deny my hair or eye color. It’s part of who I am.

“It’s okay if you are an intense person with deep feelings. You think and feel everything with your heart and that’s so rare nowadays. Just because the world always mocks a sensitive soul, you don’t have to feel left out and alone. The truth is that them not understanding you doesn’t make you any less amazing than you are. Always be proud of wearing your heart on your sleeve.” – Madiha

I would take being highly sensitive over calloused and unfeeling any day. How true, though, that the world doesn’t seem to know what to do with those of us who experience higher than normal doses of emotions and the corresponding mental illnesses. There are plenty of times during which I become so overwhelmed by my emotional response to something that I have to either talk about it or risk being consumed by it. I have found out the hard way that I can only talk about these things with certain people. The majority of people will 1) look at me like I’m crazy, and/or 2) tell me that I worry too much and need to get a grip on reality. I urge you to not hold those feeling inside, which can lead to the slippery slope of letting them control you. Believe me…I know! You just need to know who you can talk to and who will listen with respect and empathy.

I write a lot about self-discovery and loving who you are because that is the roller coaster journey I am currently on. My entire life I have tried to be someone I’m not. Or at the very least, I have tried to hide who I really am because I never felt good about the glimpses I saw of my real self. This culture often views highly sensitive people as weak – feeling so much is never a good thing, right? Wrong! I am learning that denying that part of me is what can lead to heightened anxiety and deeper depression. By developing the ability to feel, and then let those feelings go, I hope to loosen any power that mental illness has over me. I am not my anxiety or my depression; rather, I am someone who feels so deeply that the energy created by those feelings needs somewhere to go. I know that I will never be rid of my anxiety or depression, but I do know that there are healthier channels for that energy.

I am currently reading Stephen King’s 2014 novel Mr. Mercedes. In that book, he references a quote from Woody Allen: “80 percent of success is showing up.” I had to pause the audiobook and really stop and think about that quote. Far too many times in my life I have not “shown up” because I am afraid of what I might feel or experience as a result. I worry that stepping out of my comfort zone will cause me to feel too much. I worry that I will fail, which will kick off a whole new set of emotions and anxieties. The anticipation of what might happen to me emotionally has stopped me time and time again. Part of my current journey is getting a grasp on the concept that, even if I do fail, the fact that I tried – that I showed up – is all that really matters. And if I do have a highly emotional reaction, it’s okay. The important thing is recognizing that it may happen and that I shouldn’t let it control me or stop me from pursuing my dreams. People may call me crazy, but that’s okay!

“Take being called crazy as a compliment. It means you’ve found the courage to be yourself when so many others have not.” – Unknown

One major stumbling block for me is worrying what other people will think of me. I often try to remind myself that people are far too self-absorbed to really care what I do, why I do it, or how I go about doing it. That may sound harsh, but I believe it’s true. For example, if I wear the same shoes to work two days in a row, are people really going to notice? Of course not…they’re too busy worrying that people will notice that they too are wearing the same shoes two days in a row. My point is this: you do you. As long as you try, it doesn’t matter what others think. If someone else wants to judge you for your approach, that’s on them. As long as you aren’t hurting yourself or other people, go for it! You don’t need the world’s approval or permission to be yourself.

The last thing I want to bring up is the fact that you aren’t alone. Dr. Elaine Aron, a leader in the research and development of the concept of being a highly sensitive person, states that 15-20% of people are highly sensitive (2019). She goes on to explain that “in cultures where it is not valued, HSPs tend to have low self-esteem. They are told ‘don’t be so sensitive’ so that they feel abnormal” (Aron, 2019). Don’t let people make you feel like you are the only one who has anxiety or depression as a result of how deeply you feel everything around you. You have an ally in me. I see you.

“Some of the most comforting words in the universe are ‘me too.’ That moment when you find out that your struggle is also someone else’s struggle, that you’re not alone, and that others have been down the same road.” – Unknown

 

References

Aron, E. (2019). The Highly Sensitive Person. Retrieved from https://hsperson.com

Ward, D. (2012). Coping with Anxiety as an HSP. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sense-and-sensitivity/201210/coping-anxiety-hsp

What does it mean to heal?

I am realizing that learning who I am is the greatest form of healing. As usual, I have multiple quotes that illustrate my thoughts, emotions, and overall journey. I suppose you could say I have been meditating on the concept of healing and what it means for me. I have felt beaten, broken, and like I have been used up and tossed aside. I’m tired of feeling this way. I’ve been tired of feeling this way for my entire adult life. I have found that there are two parts to the pursuit of healing: recognizing patterns and recognizing that I am a real person.

“You will not heal by going back to what broke you.” – Unknown

“We cannot become what we want by remaining what we are.” – Max Depree

I have a pattern. We all have patterns if we really stop and think about it. I like the two quotes above because they show the importance of recognizing a couple different types of patterns. The first one is key because it refers to patterns we have in the way we let people treat us. I didn’t read that quote so much as going back to the same person or situation repeatedly (though that is a thing for many people), but rather the same type of person or situation. For me, I find myself drawn to broken people because I feel that all the love I have to give might make them happier or more stable. What I ignore is the fact that the people I find are users who will suck that love out of me until I have nothing left to give. I will never find healing or fulfillment by repeatedly stumbling back into that same pattern of infatuation, giving too much without receiving in return, and then ending up alone. It’s a dangerous cycle and can quickly spin out of control.

The second quote refers to another pattern: inability to face personal change. We get comfortable. We feel safe. We become stagnant and start to suffocate. For me personally, giving of myself to others is where I am comfortable. It makes me feel needed, even if I am not receiving the same level of commitment or love in return. This last divorce made me realize that the only way to find true healing is to force myself out of my comfort zone. Instead of always looking after others, I also need to look after myself. If I don’t learn that skill – and learn it quickly – I will burn out completely and be of use to no one. Instead of throwing myself into another relationship to distract me from the heartache and loneliness, I am going way outside my norm and taking art classes, spending more quality time alone, and trying to become comfortable with me. I will never find healing if I can’t be alone with myself.

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” – C.G. Jung

“Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our lives.” – Unknown

I am becoming. I cannot define myself, or let others define me, by my circumstances. Sure, I’m divorced, single, lonely, and have been through some real crap, but that is not who I am. By acknowledging that, it takes power away from the hurt. It by no means diminishes how much something hurt, it just diminishes my ability to make excuses for myself based on that hurt.

A year ago I broke my wrist. It was my first broken bone and is certainly one of the most painful things I have experienced. That pain was real. To this day I still have some pain. I would be lying to myself if I said it was false or nonexistent. However, I pushed through physical therapy and am a better person because of it. Yes, I walk more gingerly on ice when I’m out with the dog, but that’s because I learned a lesson that will stick with me for the rest of my life. In the same way, I have to take emotional or mental trauma, acknowledge that the pain is real, but then push through the healing process and come out on the other side having learned an invaluable lesson. If I let myself forget the pain or the lesson that came with it, I will likely repeat the behavior that caused it in the first place. See my thoughts on patterns. To truly heal is to break the pattern.

“Trust issues have everything to do with trusting yourself and nothing to do with trusting someone else. Because when you trust yourself, you’ll never entertain someone who makes trusting him or her an issue.” – Kyle D. Jones

My ability to trust has taken a real beating over the years. Once you have been betrayed on as many levels as I have, there’s no real going back. It has been a struggle for me for many years now. I honestly don’t believe that I will ever be able to blindly trust anyone again, and that makes me sad. I remember my most recent ex-husband saying to me once, “We’ve been together for six months. If you don’t trust me by now, there’s something wrong.” He was very aware of the fact that my husband before him had kept up a secret life for four years and had been an expert in the mental abuse technique of gaslighting. I tried unsuccessfully to explain my trust issues, but he thought I was just worrying to much. He admitted, though, that he had never been cheated on, so he didn’t quite understand how significantly that experience changes you.

I bring this up for two reasons. The first is this: trust your own instincts. Like the quote suggests, until you can trust yourself and have confidence in your own insights and intuition, it may not be possible to trust anyone else. I currently don’t trust myself to not mess up another relationship, which means I have no ability to trust someone else. Most people deserve to be trusted. Give yourself a chance so you might give them a chance. This is the difficult challenge I am facing right along with you. Big time growing pains associated with this one.

The second reason I bring up that story about my ex is this: be understanding. Don’t be too hard on yourself when you have a difficult time with trust. There are a lot of people who deserve trust, but there are also an awful lot of people who don’t. Be wise. Again…trust your instincts. And if you happen to be with someone who has been cheated on in a previous relationship, give them time. Unfortunately, you have to earn back trust that someone else lost. Don’t take it personally. It’s easier said than done, but please try.

“Your healing is about you. It doesn’t need a stamp of approval. Don’t worry about how long it takes or how ugly it may seem. It’s about you.” – Unknown

Healing is like anything else – it is unique to each individual. It looks different for everyone because we all process and perceive things differently. The way I feel about betrayal is vastly different to how you might feel during the same exact situation. If the manifestation of our individual grief and pain can be so unique, how can we expect any different of our individual ability to heal? Give yourself some credit. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. It’s impossible for us to really know where anyone else is at with the healing process, so comparisons make absolutely no sense. I appreciate the use of the word “ugly” in this quote. The healing process can be extremely ugly. But there is nothing wrong with that. You’ve been through something ugly. Let yourself feel that ugliness so that you might release it, all the while remembering that the ugliness is not a reflection of your beautiful self.

“She once believed that the damage to her mind and heart was permanent, until she met wisdom, who taught her that no pain or wound is eternal, that all can be healed, and that love can grow even in the toughest part of her being.” – Yung Pueblo

I love this quote. I love it because I can relate to it on so many different levels. In the moment, it can feel like healing will never happen. It can feel like the agony will swallow you whole. I know how easy it can be to sink to a place in which you wish the agony would swallow you whole. But nothing lasts forever, right? I’ve learned that even in the darkest and most lonely nights, the morning light usually brings hope and some sense of healing.

The love that is growing in the deepest, hidden corner of my being is a love for myself. Some people might say that’s just arrogance or selfishness. But I disagree. When I say I am learning to love myself, I do not mean that in a conceited way. I mean that I am learning to embrace who I am at my core. I am learning to embrace who I becoming as a result of all I have been through. I am not my experiences…I am not my pain…but I am becoming a new and better person because of those experiences and that pain. I have a greater capacity to love because I know what it’s like to be hurt so deeply. I have a greater capacity to extend grace and acceptance because I know what it’s like to have conditions put on love. I have a greater capacity to offer those things to others, but only if I am able to first offer them to myself. I will only truly heal if I can acknowledge that I deserve healing and deserve to be loved for all parts of me.

Coffee Shops and Life Lessons

When I was a teenager, I worked at a quaint little coffee shop. It brought together two of my passions: coffee and people. I’ve always said being a barista is like being a bar tender without the alcohol – you have your regulars, you know what they drink and often have it ready for them before they get up to the counter, you build a rapport with them, they learn to trust you, and before long they are spilling their life stories and struggles. I’ve had some pretty heavy conversations in the span of a few minutes before someone’s daily cup of joe. I’ve had people tell me that I am easy to talk to, so this may be something to do with it, but I have a feeling most baristas have similar experiences.

It took courage and some tact to learn exactly how to deal with this level of interaction. My Social Anxiety Disorder can make any interactions painful for me, but working as a barista helped me learn how to internalize those feelings and focus on the people I was serving. I wasn’t just handing them a coffee or latte or mocha…I was handing them a piece of sunshine in what might be an otherwise frustrating day. My smile or words of encouragement might be the last ones they receive for a while. I took that very seriously. We all know the importance of getting a day started off on the right foot!

Over time, I developed what you might call a portfolio of regulars. They were mine. I had several people who would only let me make their drink. Was it because I was some award winning barista who made a better latte than anyone else? Of course not. It was because I cared. For example, the lady who wanted her mint mocha with only a quarter pump of mint and a half pump of chocolate, 190 degrees, and with absolutely no foam, knew that I cared enough to make sure her drink was correct AND that I would ask how her son was doing in school. The man who wanted his breve with three quarters steamed half-and-half, a quarter steamed 2% milk, five shots of espresso, and filled to a specific level in his travel mug, knew that I cared enough to make it right every time AND ask how his job was.

Why am I telling you all this? Because in spite of my depression and my anxieties about so many, many different things, I can still show people that care. Just because I struggle with mental illness, this does not mean I am incapable of being a loving and kind individual. Some people hear of certain mental illnesses and believe that individual is defined by their illness and incapable of any other emotions or kindness towards other people. I know people do that because I have been guilty of that plenty of times.

Now let me tell you another story from my coffee shop days. When I started training to become a supervisor, I was paired up with another supervisor so he could mentor me through my first few months of the new position. To this day, Glenn remains one of the most positive and caring individuals I have ever known. He went out of his way to make people laugh and to ensure that everyone was taken care of. I was always inspired by the way in which he interacted with both his coworkers and the customers.

Only about a week or so into my training and mentorship, I had just gotten home from work when my phone rang. It was a team member named Hannah. She said, “Please come back! I think Glenn is having a seizure and I don’t know what to do!” I rushed back to work. As I walked in the door, the paramedics were walking out, with Glenn on a pram. He was in a daze, yet still managed a smile as they all rolled by me. As a brand new supervisor who had barely gone through any training, I had to calm down the customers, clean up the blood in the back room where Glenn had hit his head or bit his tongue and bled profusely, as well as run the shop with a traumatized Hannah until our manager was able to make his long drive into work. Let me tell you…my already fragile nerves were shot by the end of that day.

The next day, my manager asked if I could go to the hospital to pick Glenn up and take him home. I was honestly surprised he didn’t have anyone else to come pick him up (surely someone as vibrant as Glenn would have a million friends to call), but I was happy to do so. On the way back to his house, Glenn opened up to me, saying that they believed the seizure had been caused by some medication he had just started. I remember asking him what kind of medication would cause a seizure. He said it was a medication his psychiatrist prescribed for depression. I couldn’t believe it. I would never have guessed that Glenn struggled with depression. I was also incredibly naïve at the time and thought that only people who were truly “crazy” took medication for mental issues (I had yet to really, truly explore my own). I remember looking at him differently then, thinking that he must be faking all that positivity and kindness he always displayed. Surely if he took medication because his depression was so bad, he couldn’t be genuinely happy and kind toward others, right?

It’s kind of embarrassing to tell you that I thought that way. As I said, I was incredibly naïve, did not yet understand much about mental illness, and only knew what I saw in movies. I think we can all agree that Hollywood’s portrayal of mental illness is not always spot on. All that being said, Glenn launched into telling me his own story, which did a great job educating me in a hurry. That was the first time I realized how debilitating and devastating clinical depression can be. Glenn was the good and positive person I always perceived him to be, yet he had this demon that continually clawed its way to the surface and tried to snuff out the light that was my mentor. He had turned to medication as a last resort, but he and his doctor were struggling to find the right combination of medication (boy, do I understand that struggle now!).

Why am I telling you all this? As a reminder that mental illness, or taking medication for mental illness, does not define us. Glenn is a poster child for remaining kind and loving, in spite of wanting to die inside from extreme depression. Although he was masking his depression, he wasn’t faking that kindness or desire to make other people happy. That’s truly who he was. He knew and understood how life threatening depression can be, so he did his best to make sure other people knew how important they are.

I have one more story about Glenn. This has stuck with me for well over a decade and remains a pivotal part of my world view and approach to life, work, etc. One day when we were sitting at a table in the coffee shop, drinking coffee and discussing leadership, Glenn said to me, “Amber, to be a good leader you only have to remember two things. The first is this: a good leader always leads by example. If you are unwilling to do certain things, you can’t expect your staff to do it either. They should be able to watch you and learn from you, rather than just being told by you how or why to do something. The second and most important thing is this: you must remember that you are there for your employees, not the other way around. Your job is to make them successful. As a leader, you must do everything in your power to make it possible for them to do their job efficiently and successfully. They are not there to advance your career or make you appear more successful. Remember those two things and you will be a great leader.”

To this day, I still use that criteria to not only hold myself accountable as a leader, but also to determine if my own managers or higher ups are quality or not. More than that, though, I took that criteria to heart and applied it to my daily life. We should all lead by example. This, to me, is integrity. Vocabulary.com explains integrity in this way: “Having integrity means doing the right thing in a reliable way. It’s a personality trait that we admire, since it means a person has a moral compass that doesn’t waver. It literally means having ‘wholeness’ of character, just as an integer is a ‘whole number’ with no fractions” (Integrity, n.d.). Don’t be a fraction, people! Being a good person, as well as a good leader, requires integrity and the strength to not break when pushed to do something that would betray either yourself or anyone else. It is Glenn’s second point that has always stood out to me, though. Remembering that we are there for others, rather than the other way around, can truly alter how we live our daily life and interact with others at work or any other environment in which we are leaders. Stop using others. They aren’t stepping stones to get you where you want to be. Grant yourself permission to be there for other people and your life will change along with theirs.

References

Integrity. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/integrity